Nice Head Kill, Sweetie

My otherwise sweet 15-year-old daughter is an accomplished assassin -- and her father couldn't be more proud. Driving her home from school the other day, I noticed she was locked and loaded into her new Samsung phone. She opted for a model with QWERTY keyboard to facilitate her relentless texting habits. In the two years we have allowed her a cell phone, I never recall my daughter playing a mobile game. But here she was actually mowing down aliens in "Doom RPG."

"Die, sucker, die, why don't you?" she seethed while pumping plasma pellets into something with bloody choppers.

They grow up so fast.

I have been trying to avoid thinking of my daughter as a mass media focus group of one, because, well, she yells at me, "I hate it when you treat me like your own personal focus group." But it is hard to stop. I always tell people that if they want to know when mobile media approaches its proverbial tipping point, do the "white ear bud test." We knew that the iPod mattered, that it had become a genuinely important platform in this country, when you could see the white cords descending from ears - on the streets, in the subways, when you were trying to talk to your kid. You don't need Nielsen to tell you that SMS is the rage because we see it on the street. The great thing about mobile media is that it is, well, mobile, public, obvious. When you start seeing people watching video clips on their phones at lunch, take notice. For years now, despite all the hype about mobile gaming, I rarely if ever actually saw someone in the wild playing a game on their phone.

But now my daughter, who generally spends her cell phone time texting, is playing a first-person turn-based shooter, and it is hard for me not to take this as a sign of something.

Understand that my precious girl is a trained assassin with a superb pedigree. As a media critic, I was the first to get every game console produced in the last decade, so she and our home were very popular with the neighborhood boys. And I am proud to say that my daughter kicked boy butt in video games from the time she was seven. She knew her way around a plasma rifle the way other kids knew Hello Kitty. Perhaps I am rationalizing, but it always seemed to me that having a daughter who understood the ruthless efficiency of a single head shot was going to come in handy during the dating years. Today, she revels in live multiplayer sessions of "Halo 3," barking into the headset, "Yes, I am a girl! Eat it, creep!"

"Nice head shot, sweetie," I say. I think parents should be supportive and I am happy to see her develop precisely the dating skills a father wants in his daughter. But then I ruin the touching moment of familial closeness by asking what percentage of "Halo 3" players she encounters online also are girls.

"What didn't you understand about me not being a focus group?" she asks. Isn't that sweet, she even gets her idiosyncratic sentence structure and sarcasm from me.

Actually, it gets worse, sweetheart. Not only is she playing a game on her phone, but somehow, and without my parental prodding, she happened upon the best mobile game of the last few years. John Carmack, the famed video game uber-geek who developed "Doom" and "Quake," took an interest in mobile gaming several years ago and turned an action shooter into a turn-based shooter with role-playing elements. The result is the brilliant "Doom RPG," possibly the only mobile game that I played habitually. I don't know how my daughter found this two-year-old title because, like my parental battles with her, I have to pick my focus group questions judiciously.

"Dad, STOP! I am not answering any more poll questions at dinner!"

What interests me is how she zeroed in on quality media. This is something that I have noticed watching my daughter's media habits evolve both on mobile and elsewhere. She does not tolerate crap.

The young and mobile generation does indeed vault the terrible hurdle of text messaging, the weirdest communications device this side of smoke signals. But they are also raised in high-def. They understand good production values, and know when they are being ripped off. We can't get away with tossing beta junk at them or thinking they are easy to coerce and control just because they are digital junkies.

This is important to remember. A lot of these kids are swapping mobile sites and offers that fly beneath industry radar. Just look at the many highly trafficked sites within AdMob's network. Many of them I never heard of, but they often pile up ridiculous numbers of mobile page views because they go super-viral among young users. But as my daughter is teaching me (although I try not to let her catch me), this audience has a keen eye and well-honed sense of quality.

And so I hazarded one more focus group query. What does she think about the ubiquitous text ads on WAP pages that prompt her to get free ringtones, wallpapers, etc. "They are just trying to trick you into something that is going to cost you, and they don't have what I want anyway," she says offhandedly.

I couldn't have said it better myself. My girl is learning from digital technology everything she needs to know... about boys.

Tags: mobile
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